The Internal Editor

I first published this on my original blog seven years ago. My internal editor and I am still fighting and I still don’t know who’ll win.

I’m curious. Do you work with an internal editor? I ask because it’s a concept I’ve been aware of and fascinated by for a long time. For instance, during my years as journalism advisor for Coon Rapids High School’s newspaper, my students and I often held discussions about the extent to which they were self-editing. One such discussion I clearly recall moderating was between the editor and the music reviewer pulled a deservedly scathing review of a rock concert he’d attended. The reason? He feared the put-downs that his comments would elicit from his peers.

Like the kids I, too, find myself aware of internal editors. The strongest one has the most critical voice: “You don’t know what you’re doing. That stinks. What right have you got to put that out for public viewing?” I can usually work through this one by sternly saying to it, “Shut up now!” But there’s a scarier voice that’s harder to silence. It’s the one that tells me I should write only work that will sell. This would make sense except that when I heed this voice, the work that evolves is almost always trite and contrived. What works for me…the only time that editor is silent…is when I’m learning something new.  And because that editor is silent, I let myself go. The result is almost always good–maybe not technically perfect, but fresh and alive. “Oh!” someone says; “that’s great! You need to write more like that!” And of course, that’s when that nagging voice of the “sales” editor kicks in again.

Now I’ve read enough pop psychology to know the sources of these admonitions, but  that knowledge isn’t enough to silence these insidious mumblers. So I repeat my question: Whether you paint, write, cook, knit, carve, if you, like me, have an internal editor that gets in your way, how do you handle it? I’d love to hear from you.